All 13 schools are listed 'exceptional'

Every school in the Lake Oswego School District earned an 'exceptional' rating on this year's state report cards.

And of the 197 school districts in Oregon, LOSD is the only major district with more than one high school to achieve exceptional ratings for every school.

The honor is a testament to the hard work of students, quality of teachers and dedication of parents, said Donna Atherton, director of secondary education.

'We work at it really hard and the kids work at it really hard,' she said.

Four one-school districts received the exceptional rating; while both schools in the Riverdale School District received exceptionals.

The report card ratings are based on data released this week by the Oregon Department of Education. They are calculated largely from results of annual state assessments of students.

Schools receive separate ratings for student performance, improvement, student behavior and school characteristics. A formula is applied to these separate ratings to designate an overall rating of exceptional, strong, satisfactory, low or unacceptable.

At the state level, 157 schools (14 percent) were deemed exceptional. Seventy-eight percent of schools met Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.

It's the second time in three years the LOSD swept the ratings. In 2005, all schools were deemed 'exceptional,' and last year, only Lake Oswego High School missed the mark - by a hair.

Once the district received word of its achievement, officials moved swiftly to get word out across the community and include it in its marketing plan.

Nancy Duin, the district's communications director, sent out a press release to parents and the media. At the schools, teachers and students celebrated by eating cake.

'We're super jazzed,' said Superintendent Bill Korach. 'All schools making 'exceptional' is just unheard of. We're very pleased.'

The district's high state assessment test scores played a big part in bringing the schools up to the 'exceptional' rating. At the high school level, district assessment scores for writing are the highest in Oregon.

According to the new report card, Palisades and River Grove elementary schools 'improved,' while the rest of the schools 'stayed about the same.'

But despite the thrilling news, the district continues to face a frustration it has little control over: Accountability.

For the second consecutive year, all Lake Oswego schools met standards for AYP - but the district did not (for the third year in a row) because of one sub-group.

That group, 'students with disabilities,' did not meet student achievement in mathematics or participation in English/language arts.

According to Korach, some special needs students choose to opt out of testing, or their parents made that choice for them.

The district is held accountable for the testing of outplaced students, such as those enrolled in programs outside the district. For example, a student living in Lake Oswego could attend the Christie School or Portland Community College instead of public school.

If they aren't tested or don't meet the state standard, the lack of participation and achievement falls back on the district. And this problem with accountability ultimately hurts district ratings.

It's a high price to pay for a very small margin, Korach said.

'It's frustrating, but it's difficult for us to exercise the degree of influence we would need to have for students who are not actually with us,' he said. 'Our nemesis continues.'

Atherton said it's important that the district send out a clear message about the many components and factors that contribute to AYP ratings. The district continues to share dialogue with the ODE about this concern, she said.

'It's something we're always working on,' she added. 'The state has set up their guidelines and they are telling us this is the way these kids would be accounted for.'

Right now, however, the district will focus on the bright side and spread the word about its top-notch schools and their availability to outside students.

'This is an outstanding community effort,' Atherton said. 'When you have all of your schools rated 'exceptional' by the state, it's something to be proud of.'

The Riverdale School District met AYP standards.